DETROIT LAKES — As long as Detroit Lakes has existed, there has been one fraternal organization dedicated to its betterment.

That organization, Mt. Tabor Lodge No. 106, is celebrating its 150th anniversary of brotherhood and betterment.

The Masonic Lodge was originally organized on January 14, 1874 and held its first formal organizational meeting on February 11, 1873. Several informal meetings were held during the fall and winter of 1872. Shortly prior to those informal meetings, Detroit Lakes, then Detroit, was officially organized by Colonel George Johnston in 1871.

In Minnesota, the first Masonic lodge was organized in St. Paul on July 16, 1849, not long after Minnesota became an organized territory on March 3, 1849. The oldest lodge in America dates to 1732.

Freemasonry is so intertwined with Detroit Lakes’ history that the group’s handiwork can be found on historic buildings. Hidden beneath the facade on the northeast corner of the Main Street Restaurant is Freemasonry’s most recognizable symbol, a square and compass.

The Masonic Lodge met in that building from 1895 to 1928. It is one of several buildings where Freemasons have met in the group’s 150-year history in Detroit Lakes. Today, the Freemasons can be found above Mellow Moods and Coldwell Banker on Washington Avenue, where they have met since the late 1970s.

The purpose of the Freemasons is to “make good men better.” By forming men of high moral character, these men can improve their communities through charity and other philanthropic endeavors.

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Current Lodge Master Jon Anderson in the Mt. Tabor Lodge No. 106 meeting room. Anderson joined the Masons in 2016 and is in his second year as Lodge Master.

Tris Anderson / Detroit Lakes Tribune

“Freemasonry is a charitable, benevolent, educational and religious society,” a handout about the group states. “Its basic principles are brotherly love, philanthropy and truth.”

These statements are often discussed at meetings, where the group discusses everything from upcoming events to history or other topics important to the group. But there are two things that Freemasons will never discuss.

“In fact, the two things that are not allowed to be discussed in the Lodge are politics and religion,” said Lodge Master Jon Anderson. “Because all it does is cause arguments and fights.”

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Founders of the Detroit Lakes Masonic Lodge.

Contributed / Mt. Tabor Lodge #106

It is common for lodges in large cities to focus on specific niches, so that Freemasons or potential Freemasons can join a lodge that is tailored to their interests. However, Mt. Tabor does not focus on any one interest, due to the size of the group.

And who can join the Freemasons? Well, according to Anderson, just about anyone.

“A lot of people think all Masons have to be rich people, I drive a propane truck for Cenex in Lake Park,” Anderson said. “We have business owners … but it’s everyone in between. … Any religion is welcome, all you have to do to join is believe in someone greater than you, we call it the Supreme Architect.”

The only other requirement is that members must be 18 years or older to join.

Anderson, who started the Masons in 2016, says the group currently has about 80 members, many of whom are older, meaning they’re not as engaged as they once were. Membership has also stagnated in recent years.

“COVID was really bad because unfortunately, with a lot of members that age (older), we lost a few to COVID,” Anderson said. “A lot of them got so nervous that they stopped coming, which is fine. The membership has been a roller coaster … it goes up and then it goes down.”

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Doug Brown is a third generation Freemason who joined in 1984 in San Antonio, Texas. He has studied the group extensively and often shares his historical knowledge with the Mt. Tabor Freemasons.

Tris Anderson / Detroit Lakes Tribune

At one point, he said, membership was so low that the Detroit Lakes Lodge considered surrendering its charter. That fate has befallen several other lodges in the area over the years, leading those Masons to join Mt. Tabor.

But there is hope on the horizon. While things like social media have brought us closer together than ever before, they have also left the younger generation increasingly isolated.

“Unfortunately, I have to say it’s a generational thing,” said Anderson, a first-generation Mason. “But fortunately, the younger generation, who are in their late teens, early 20s, are looking for things that they can be a part of, and that’s what we want. We want people who are passionate and want to do something for the community.”

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A wall full of portraits of former Lodge Masters in the lounge of the Mt. Tabor Lodge.

Tris Anderson / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Doug Brown, a third-generation Freemason and historian, says he’s not too worried about the group’s future.

“Freemasonry has always been in a cycle,” he said. “People developed a camaraderie and wanted it again after they came out of the Civil War or other wars, so they continued it through Freemasonry. Personally, I don’t see it as the end of the world if the membership declines, because it makes us more unique and valuable.”

Brown joined the Masons in 1984 in San Antonio, Texas, and has since moved to South Dakota, Missouri, and now Minnesota. The fraternal ties are so deep that he has been accepted into every lodge in his hometown. When he eventually retires and moves to his wife’s home state of Missouri, he will be welcome in that local lodge as well.

What surprises Anderson about Freemasonry is the sheer size of the organization and how welcoming it is.

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The lounge area of ​​Mt. Tabor Lodge.

Tris Anderson / Detroit Lakes Tribune

“It’s a worldwide brotherhood,” he said. “That’s what shocked me the most, how big it was.”

Anderson had several encounters with Masonry before taking the plunge and joining in 2016. One of his first encounters was through charity, when his niece, who was 2 or 3 at the time, was diagnosed with leukemia.

One day, five men knocked on the door with a check for $500 and two big boxes of food. These men were Freemasons. And eventually a friend joined, who gave him the final push he needed to join the group.

Before that, he had already watched a number of programs about the group.

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The hat and gavel worn and used by the Master of the Lodge.

Tris Anderson / Detroit Lakes Tribune

“I had seen the shows on the History Channel, that kind of thing,” he said. “I don’t believe in a lot of the conspiracy theories, but I had studied them and looked them up and it just seemed like a really interesting group.”

The Freemasons have long been a vector for conspiracy theories, and it’s not hard to see why. From esoteric symbolism to secret rituals and handshakes to their deeply intertwined history with the country’s founding.

Many great and powerful Americans have been Freemasons. George Washington, for example, was a Freemason—portraits of him can be found in the Mt. Tabor Lodge.

In 1952, while then-President Harry Truman was renovating a deteriorating White House, stones with Mason markings were found. Truman, himself a Mason, sent the stones to Grand Lodges in each state, the governing body of Masonry in their respective jurisdictions.

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The meeting room at Mt. Tabor Lodge #106. There are only two things Freemasons cannot talk about: religion and politics.

Tris Anderson / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Masonic jargon is even part of our modern day jargon. Have you ever completed the third degree? The third degree is the final and most challenging task you must complete to become a Master Mason.

It is not hard to see why there seems to be so much conspiracy surrounding the group, which is often seen as extremely secretive. (Official Masonic literature takes great pains to emphasize that it is a secret organization.) But as Anderson and Brown joke, the group’s secrets are among the most poorly kept.

“Every secret that comes from Freemasons, you can find on the Internet,” Anderson said. “What it is, as a Freemason, I made a promise that I personally would not reveal any of the secret words, the handshakes or anything like that.”

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Freemasons have met in various buildings in Detroit Lakes during the group’s 150 years of existence.

Tris Anderson / Detroit Lakes Tribune

One thing that’s certainly no secret is how Mt. Tabor Lodge is celebrating its 150th anniversary: ​​The Lodge is hosting a pancake and pulled pork supper during the 88th Northwest Water Carnival on July 20.

The pancake market is open from 8-11am on Saturday mornings, or until the market is gone. The pulled pork market is open from 12-4pm on Saturday afternoons, or until the market is gone. Both events are held in the parking lot behind Napa Auto Parts, and the cost to attend is a free will donation.

The proceeds from the pancake campaign will go towards scholarships for local students.

“For every $500 we can raise, the Grand Lodge of Minnesota matches it,” Anderson said. “So we can give a $1,000 scholarship to a student, we haven’t been able to do that since COVID, that was one of my things I wanted to get settled, was to get it back in rotation, get it going because it’s good for the kids and it helps people.”

The proceeds from the pulled pork feed go towards the purchase of fire extinguishing equipment for emergency services. The equipment can be used to gain time before the fire brigade arrives.

Looking ahead to the next 150 years, Anderson is confident that Freemasonry will endure.

“I honestly think it (Freemasonry) will flourish,” he said. “With any luck, this lodge will be here for another 150 years, but Freemasonry as a whole will flourish because there are enough people who care about their fellow man and want to join.”